I think this is my fourth year making gingerbread houses with my nieces and nephews. I'm not gonna lie. It's a lot of work! But, it is so worth it. I love the whole process. Mixing the dough, rolling it out, cutting out the shapes, making little windows, filling the windows with cut up Lifesaver candies, baking the pieces, and assembling them with boiling hot melted sugar. And, I haven't even gotten to the decorating! Well, I leave that to the kids!
Recipe for Gingerbread Dough
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 cup dark molasses
1 tablespoon water
Bake rolled out dough in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 11 to 14 minutes.
Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, molasses, and water, and mix well.
Beat half the flour mixture into the mixer. Then, add the remaining flour mixture and (with clean dry hands) mix it by hand until all of the flour is absorbed and mixed well. If the dough seems too sticky, add more flour, 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time.
At this point, you can either roll out the dough and start baking, or store it in a ziplock bag in the fridge until you're ready to bake. If you have a full schedule, you may like to break up the gingerbread making process into several days, like I do. One for making the dough, one for baking, and one for assembling.
I've been using the same templates for the past four years, ever since I started what has now become an annual tradition in my family!
I made the templates out of cardboard, from suggested measurements I found online (can't remember which site, sorry!). They're a little beat up these days, but they work just fine. See diagram above, which is not to scale (again, sorry!), to make your own.
I use the same template for the front and the back of the house, but for the back, I just don't cut out a door. And I add windows wherever I like.
Cutting Out the Pieces & Baking
You'll need parchment paper and a rolling pin.
Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out a fist-full of dough, about 1/4" thick. Place your template over the top sheet of parchment and peel back the parchment at the edge of the template. Using a sharp, clean knife, cut around the edges and remove excess dough.
I like to cut out windows freehand style, but if you have a square or rectangular cookie cutter, I'm sure that would work.
At this point, you can leave you windows as is, but why would you when you can create beautiful "stained glass" with Lifesavers!
Be sure to cut them up into small pieces so they melt when you bake your gingerbread house pieces.
Place the colors as you like. I wish the Lifesaver packs had more of the light yellow ones. (As you can tell, I don't eat them, because I can't tell you what flavor they are. Pineapple?)
Grab the edge of the parchment paper and slide the whole thing, gingerbread, Lifesavers, and all, onto your baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 11 to 14 minutes. Start checking at 11 and if the Lifesavers aren't melted all the way, keep in for a few more minutes.
It should look something like this when finished.
No need to get too detailed about the edges if they're a little rough. This is what makes it homemade!! Besides, there is a great opportunity when it come to decorating your house, to cover up any baking mishaps you don't want to remain visible. Haha!
You'll need to create two of the roof pieces, two of the sides, one front, one back, and a door—that's seven pieces all together.
And if you're making three houses, like I did, that's three times the recipe and 21 pieces of crazy gingerbread madness!
My apartment smelled so good!
After all the pieces are cooled and ready to assemble, heat about a cup of sugar in a cast iron frying pan on the stove at medium to high temperature. This is going to be the adhesive to put all the pieces together.
Let the sugar melt, stirring with a spoon. Be very careful because melted sugar will burn your tender skin!! This is definitely not an activity for little ones. It only takes a few minutes to melt the sugar, so do not leave it unattended.
I didn't take any photos of the assembly, unfortunately, because my nieces and nephew were patiently waiting for the houses to be ready for them to decorate. But, basically, you dip the edges of the pieces in the melted sugar and stick them together. Pretty simple.
Just make sure your gingerbread stand is directly next to the pan you're dipping in because the sugar will drip, and you don't want that getting into the inner recesses of your stove!
Mix up a batch of Royal Icing for the decorating phase of the project. If you plan on eating the gingerbread house when you're finished, you may want to use pasteurized egg whites, to avoid the risk of salmonella.
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg whites, beaten
Beat the ingredients in an electric mixer on high for about 5 minutes. It should be stiff. Drippy icing is the worst. It won't hold the weight of the candy on the walls or the roof!
As far as decorating is concerned, it's very subjective. I like to pick colorful small candies like Skittles, M&M'S, Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike, Smarties, spicy gum drops, mints, and candy canes, to name a few. This year, we also used pretzels, almonds, and red vines!
Tip: Get battery operated tea lights. The light coming through the windows at night looks absolutely enchanting!
I love the wreath that my nephew created here. (Excuse the photobomb of his hand in the upper left!)
Happy decorating! And have fun making memories with your kids and loved ones!
And yes, that is Rudolph's head. Sorry, Rudolph!